The Labyrinth of Solitude: And the Other Mexico ; Return to the Labyrinth of Solitude ; Mexico and the United States ; The Philanthropic Ogre, Volume Octavio Paz has long been acknowledged as Mexico's foremost writer and critic. Also included are "The Other Mexico," "Return to. This enlarged edition of The Labyrinth of Solitude contains the new texts that Return to the Labyrinth of Solitude, is an interview with Claude Fell in which Paz . The Other Mexico, Return to the Labyrinth of Solitude, Mexico and the United States, the Philanthropic Ogre. Octavio Paz (), Lysander Kemp. All of us, at some moment, have had a vision of our existence as something unique, untransferable and very precious.
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The Labyrinth of Solitude by Octavio Paz; 14 editions; First published in DAISY for print-disabled Download ebook for print-disabled (DAISY). Adapted and directed by Matthew Vaughn (producer of "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels") as a feature film to be released in fall , "Layer Cake" is a. Edition1st Grove Press ed., 1st Evergreen ed. External-identifierurn:oclc:record: ExtramarcColumbia University Libraries. Identifier.
It is a strange word with no definite meaning; or, to be more exact, it is charged like all popular creations with a diversity of meanings. Whether we like it or not, these persons are Mexicans, are one of the extremes at which the Mexican can arrive. Since the pachuco cannot adapt himself to a civilization which, for its part, rejects him, he finds no answer to the hos- tility surrounding him except this angry affirmation of his per- sonality.
They want to be like other people. The Mexicans have suffered a less violent rejection, but instead of attempting a problematical adjustment to society, the pachuco actually flaunts his differences. The purpose of his grotesque dandyism and anarchic behavior is not so much to point out 2 Many of the juvenile gangs that have formed in the United States in recent years are reminiscent of the post-war pachucos.
It could not have been otherwise: North American society is closed to the outside world, and at the same time it is inwardly petrified. Life cannot penetrate it, and being rejected, squanders itself aimlessly on the outside. It is a marginal life, formless but hoping to discover its proper form. It is not important to examine the causes of this conflict, and even less so to ask whether or not it has a solution.
There are minorities in many parts of the world who do not enjoy the same opportunities as the rest of the population. The important thing is this stubborn desire to be different, this anguished tension with which the lone Mexican — an orphan lacking both protectors and positive values — displays his differences. The pachuco has lost his whole inheritance: He is left with only a body and a soul with which to confront the elements, defenseless against the stares of everyone.
His disguise is a pro tection, but it also differe n- tiates and is olates him: It is simply a fashion, and like all fashions it is based on novelty — the mother of death, as Leopardi said — and imitation. Its novelty consists in its exaggeration.
The pachuco carries fashion to its ultimate consequences and turns it into some- thing aesthetic. Hence its aggresiveness. Eccentrics usually emphasize their decision to break away from society — either to form new and more tightly closed groups or to assert their individuality — through their way of dressing. In the case of the pachuco there is an obvious ambiguity: This duality is also expressed in another, perhaps profounder q way: His sadistic atti- tude is allied with a desire for self-abasement which in my opinion constitutes the very foundation of his character: It is the only way he can establish a more vital relationship with the society he is antagonizing.
As a victim, he can occupy a place in the world that previously had ignored him; as a delinquent, he can become one of its wicked heroes. His dangerousness lies in his singularity.
Everyone agrees in finding something hybrid about him, some- thing disturbing and fascinating. He is surrounded by an aura of ambivalent notions: Some people credit him with unusual erotic prowess; others consider him perverted but still aggressive.
He is someone who ought to be destroyed. He is also someone with whom any contact must be made in secret, in the darkness. The pachuco is impassive and contemptuous, allowing all these contradictory impressions to accumulate around him until finally, with a certain painful satisfaction, he sees them explode into a tavern fight or a raid by the police or a riot. And then, in suffering persecution, he becomes his true self, his supremely naked self, as a pariah, a man who belongs nowhere.
The circle that began with provocation has completed itself and he is ready now for redemption, for his entrance into the society that rejected him. He has been its sin and its scandal, but now that he is a victim it recognizes him at last for what he really is: At last he has found new parents.
Having been cut off from his traditional culture, he asserts himself for a moment as a solitary and challenging figure. He denies both the society from which he originated and that of North America. When he thrusts himself outward, it is not t o unite with what surrounds him but rather to defy it. He is not divulging his most inti- mate feelings: A wound that is also a grotesque, capricious, barbaric adornment.
A wound that laughs at itself and decks itself out for the hunt. Persecution redeems him and breaks his solitude: I remember that when I commented to a Mexican friend on the loveliness of Berkeley, she said: Even the birds speak Eng- lish. But I am convinced that his hybrid language and behavior reflect a physic oscillation between two irreducible worlds — the North Ameri- can and the Mexican — which he vainly hopes to reconcile and conquer.
He does not want to become either a Mexican or a Yankee. Was this a quick, imaginative adaptation of what these young people, after years of isolation, thought was in fashion in North America? I questioned a number of people about it, and almost all of them told me it was a strictly French phenomenon that had come into existence at the end of the Occupation.
Some even considered it a manifestation of the Resist- ance: Although I do not exclude the possibility of a more or less indirect imita- tion, I think the similarity is remarkable and significant. And we increase our solitude by refusing to seek out our compatriots, perhaps because we fear we will see our- selves in them, perhaps because of a painful, defensive unwill- ingness to share our intimate feelings. The Mexican succumbs very easily to sentimental effusions, and therefore he shuns them.
We live closed up within ourselves, like those taciturn adolescents — I will add in passing that I hardly met any of the sort among North American youths — who are custodians of a secret that they guard behind scowling expressions, but that only waits for the opportune moment in which to reveal itself.
I am not going to expand my description of these feelings or discuss the states of depression or frenzy or often both that accompany them. They are all apt to lead to unexpected explo- sions, which destroy a precarious equilibrium based o n the Imposition'bfTorms' thaf oppress or mu tilate u s. Our sense of inferiority — real or imagined — might be explained at least partly by the reserve with which the Mexican faces other people and the unpredictable violence with which his repressed emo- tions break through his mask of impassivity.
But his solit ude is vaster and profounder than his sen se of inferiority. I t is impos- sible to equate these two attitudes: A lso, a sense of inferiority may some- times be an illusion, but solitude is a hard fact.
We are truly different.
And we are truly alone. This is not the moment to analyze our profound sense of solitude, which alternately affirms and denies itself in melan- choly and rejoicing, silence and sheer noise, gratuitous crimes and religious fervor.
Man is alone everywhere. In the Valley of Mexico man feels himself suspended between heaven and earth, and he oscillates between contrary powers and forces, and petrified eyes, and devouring mouths. Reality — that is, the world that surrounds us — exists by itself here, has a life of its own, and was not invented by man as it was in the United States, j A The Mexican feels himself to have been torn from the womb of this reality, which is both creative and destructive, both Mother and Tomb.
He has forgotten the word that ties him to all those forces through which life manifests itself. Therefore he shouts or keeps silent, stabs or prays, or falls asleep for a hundred years. The history of Mexico i s the history of a man seeking h is parentage, his o rigin s. He has been influenced at one time or another by France, Spain, the United States and the militant indigenists of his own country, and he crosses history like a jade comet, now and then giving off flashes of lightning.
What is he pursuing in his eccentric course? He wants to go back beyond the catastrophe he suffered: Was that day the Conquest? Our solitude has the same roots as religious feelings. It is a form of orphanhood, an obscure awareness that we have been torn from the All, and an ardent search: Nothing could be further from this feeling than the solitude of the North American.
In the United States man does not feel that he has been torn from the center of creation and suspended between hostile forces. But no w he cannot recognize himself in his inhuman objects, nor in his fellows.
His creations, like those of an inept sorcerer, no longer obey him. That is, they are rich and we are poor, and while their legacy is Democracy, Capitalism and the Industrial Revolution, ours is the Counter- reformation, Monopoly and Feudalism.
But however influential the systems of production may be in the shaping of a culture, I refuse to believe that as soon as we have heavy industry and are free of all economic imperialism, the differences will vanish.
In fact, I look for the opposite to happen, and I consider this possibility one of the greatest virtues of the Revolution of But why search history for an answer that only we our- selves can give? If it is we who feel ourselves to be different, what makes us so, and in what do the differences consist?
I am going to suggest an answer that will perhaps not be wholly satisfactory. I am only trying to clarify the meaning of certain experiences for my own self, and I admit that what I say may be worth no more than a personal answer to a personal question. When I arrived in the United States I was surprised above all by the self-assurance and confidence of the people, by their apparent happiness and apparent adjustment to the world around them.
This satisfaction does not stifle criticism, how- ever, and the criticism is valuable and forthright, of a sort not often heard in the countries to the south, where long periods of dictatorship have made us more cautious about expressing our points of view. But it is a criticism that respects the existing systems and never touches the roots. Almost all the criticisms I heard from the lips of North Americans were of the reformist variety: It seemed to me then, and it still does, that the United States is a society that wants to realize its ideals, has no wish to exchange them for others, and is confident of surviving, no matter how dark the future may appear.
I am not interested in discussing whether this attitude is justified by reason and reality; I simply want to point out that it exists. It is true that this faith in the natural goodness of life, or in its infinite wealth of possibilities, cannot be found in recent North American literature, which prefers to depict a much more somber world; but I found it in the actions, the words and even the faces of almost everyone I met.
To us a realist is always a pessimist. And an ingenuous person would not remain so for very long if he truly contemplated life realistically. Would it not be more accurate to say that the North American wants to use reality rather than to know it? In some matters — death, for example — he not only has no desire to understand it, he obvi- ously avoids the very idea. Since then the North Americans have lost their optimism but not their confidence, a confidence based on resignation and obstinacy.
The truth is that although many people talk about the danger, secretly no one believes — no one wants to believe — that it is real and immediate. The bloody Christs in our village churches, the macabre humor in some of our newspaper headlines, our wakes, the custom of eating skull- shaped cakes and candies on the Day of the Dead, are habits inherited from the Indians and the Spaniards and are now an inseparable part of our being.
Our cult of death is also a cult of life, in the same way that love is a hunger for life and a long- ing for death. Our fondness for self-destruction derives not only from our masochistic tendencies but also from a certain variety of religious emotion. And our differences do not end there. The North Americans are credulous and we are believers; they love fairy tales and detective stories and we love myths and legends.
The Mexican tells lies because he delights in fantasy, or because he is des- perate, or because he wants to rise above the sordid facts of his life; the North American does not tell lies, but he substitutes social truth for the real truth, which is always disagreeable.
We get drunk in order to confess; they get drunk in order to forget. They are optimists and we are nihilists — except that our nihil- ism is not intellectual but instinctive, and therefore irrefutable. We are suspicious and they are trusting. North Americans want to understand and we want to contemplate. They are activists and we are quietists; we enjoy our wounds and they enjoy their inventions.
They believe in hygiene, health, work and contentment, but perhaps they have never experienced true joy, which is an intoxication, a whirlwind. In the hubbub of a fiesta night our voices explode into brilliant lights, and life and death mingle together, while their vitality becomes a fixed smile that denies old age and death but that changes life to motionless stone.
What is the origin of such contradictory attitudes? It seems to me that North Americans consider the world to be something that can be perfected, and that we consider it to be something that can be redeemed. Like their Puritan ancestors, we believe that sin and death constitute the ultimate basis of human nature, but with the difference that the Puritan identifies purity with health.
Every contact is a contamination. Foreign races, ideas, customs, and bodies carry within themselves the germs of perdition and impurity. Social hygiene complements that of the soul and the body. Mexicans, however, both ancient and modern, believe in communion and fiestas: Tlazolteotl, the Aztec goddess of filth and fecundity, of earthly and human moods, was also the goddess of steam baths, sexual love and confession. And we have not changed very much, for Catholicism is also communion.
These two attitudes are irreconcilable, I believe, and, in their present form, insufficient. I would also not be telling the truth if I were to say that I can believe in the fertility of a society based on the imposition of certain modern principles.
Contemporary history invalidates the belief in man as a creature whose essential being can be modified by social or pedagogical procedures. Man is not simply! Man, it seems to me, is not in history: The North American system only wants to consider the posi- tive aspects of reality.
Men and women are subjected from childhood to an inexorable process of adaptation; certain prin- ciples, contained in brief formulas, are endlessly repeated by the press, the radio, the churches and the schools, and by those kindly, sinister beings, the North American mothers and wives. A person imprisoned by these schemes is like a plant in a flower- pot too small for it: This sort of con- spiracy cannot help but provoke violent individual rebellions.
Spontaneity avenges itself in a thousand subtle or terrible ways. The mask that replaces the dramatic mobility of the human face is benevolent and courteous but empty of emotion, and its set smile is almost lugubrious: The sadism underlying almost all types of relationships in con- temporary North American life is perhaps nothing more than a way of escaping the petrifaction imposed by that doctrine of aseptic moral purity.
But it is not to my purpose to describe these reactions. It is enough to say that all of them, like their Mexican opposites, seem to me to reveal our mutual inability to reconcile ourselves to the flux of life.
A study of the great myths concerning the origin of man and the meaning of our presence on earth reveals that every culture — in the sense of a complex of values created and shared in common — stems from the conviction that man the intruder has broken or violated the order of the universe.
He has inflicted a wound on the compact flesh of the world, and chaos, which is the ancient and, so to speak, natural condition of life, can emerge again from this aperture. Holderlin expresses in several different poems his dread of the great empty mouth of chaos with its fatal seduction for man and the universe: And then a desire to return To chaos rises incessantly.
There is much To defend, and the faithful are much needed. Man collaborates activel y in defendi ng universal or der, which is always being threatened by chaos. And when it collapses he 5 Reif sind, in Feuer getaucht. But exile, expiation and penitence should proceed from the reconciliation of man with the universe. Neither the Mexican nor the North American has achieved this reconciliation.
What is even more serious, I r am afraid we have lost our sense of the very meaning of all! If the solitude of the Mexican is like a stagnant pool, that of the North American is like a mirror. We have ceased to be springs of living water. No doubt the nearness of death and the brotherhood of men-at-arms, at whatever time and in whatever country, always produce an atmosphere favorable to the extraordinary, to all that rises above the human condition and breaks the circle of solitude that surrounds each one of us.
But in those faces — obtuse and obstinate, gross and brutal, like those the great Spanish painters, without the least touch of complacency and with an almost flesh-and-blood realism, have left us — there was something like a desperate hopefulness, some- thing very concrete and at the same time universal. Since then I have never seen the same expression on any face.
My testimony can be dismissed as an illusion, but I consider it futile to attempt any answer to this objection: The Spanish dream was broken and defiled later, not because it was Spanish but because it was universal and, at the same time, concrete, an embodied dream with wide, astonished eyes. But the memory will never leave me. Any- one who has looked Hope in the face will never forget it.
He will search for it everywhere he goes, among all kinds of men. And he will dream of finding it again someday, somewhere, perhaps among those closest to him.
In his harsh solitude, which is both barbed and courteous, everything serves him as a defense: He is jealous of his own privacy and that of others, and he is afraid even to glance at his neighbor, because a mere glance can trigger the rage of these electrically charged spirits. He passes through life like a man who has been flayed; everything can hurt him, including words and the very suspicion of words. His language is full of reticences, of metaphors and allusions, of unfinished phrases, while his silence is full of tints, folds, thunderheads, sudden rainbows, indecipherable threats.
Even in a quarrel he prefers veiled expressions to outright insults: And a lso from himself. Women are inferior beings because, in-aibrnitting, they open themselves up. Their inferiority is constitutional and res id es in their se x. It shows that we instinctively regard the world around us to be dangerous. This reaction is justifiable if one considers what our history has been and the kind of society we have created.
Our response to sympathy and tenderness i. Our relationships with other men are always tinged with suspic ion. Every time a Mexican confides in a friend or acquaint- ance, every time he opens himself up, it is an abdication. He dreads that the person in whom he has confided will scorn him. Therefore confidences result in jiishono r, and they are as dan- gerous for the person to whom they are made as they are for the person who makes them.
Our anger is prompted not only by the fear of being used by our confidants — that fear is common to everyone — but also by the shame of having renounced our solitude. The distance between one man and another, which creates mutual respect and mutual security, has disappeared. We are at the mercy of the intruder.
What is worse, we have actually abdicated. For other people, however, the manly ideal consists in an open and aggressive fondness for combat, whereas we emphasize defensiveness, th e readiness to repel any attack.
The Mexican macho — the male — is a hermetic being, closed ujrin himself, capable of guarding both himself and whatever has been confided to him. Our history is full of expressions and incidents that demonstrate the indifference of our heroes toward suffering or danger.
R esignation is one of our most popular virtues. We admire f ortitude -m the face of adversity more than the most brilliant triumph, TEnTp redominance of the closed the open manifests itself not only as impassivity and distrust, irony and suspicion.
Iiorm surrounds and sets bounds to our privacy, limiting its excesses, curbing its explosions, isolat- ing and preserving it. Both our Spanish and Indian heritages have influenced our fondness for ceremony, formulas, and order.
A superficial examination of our history might suggest other- wise, but actually the Mexican aspires to create an orderly world regulated by clearly stated principles. The turbulence and ran- cor of our political struggles prove that juridical ideas play an important role in our public life.
The Mexican also strives to be formal in his daily life, and his formalities are very apt to become formulas. This is not difficult to understand. Order — juridical, social, religious or artistic — brings security aiTd'staKfl- ity, and a person has only to adjust to the models and principles that regulate life; he can express himself without resorting to the perpetual inventiveness demanded by a free society.
Per- haps our traditionalism, which is one of the constants of our national character, giving coherence to our people and our history, results from our professed love for Form.
During the past century the liberals tried vainly to force the realities of the country into the strait jacket of the Constitution of In a certain sen se the history of Mexico, like that of every Mexican, is a struggle between the forms and formulas that have been imposed on us and the explosions with which our individuality avenges itself. Form has rarely been an original creation, an equilibrium arrived at through our instincts and desires rather than at their expense.
J Our devotion to F onn, e ven when empty, can be seen through-] out the history of Mexican art from pre-Conquest times to the present. Antonio Castro Leal, in his excellent study of Juan Ruiz de Alarcon, shows how our reserved attitude toward Romanticism — which by definition is expansive and open — revealed itself as early as the seventeenth century, that is, before we were even aware of ourselves as a nation.
In effect, the most typical portions of his plays deny the values expressed by his Spanish contemporaries. And his negation contains in brief what Mexico has always opposed to Spain. His plays were an answer to Spanish vitality, which was affirmative and splendid in that epoch, expressing itself in a great Yes! Lope de Vega exalted love, heroism, the superhuman, the incredible; Alarcon favored other virtues, more subtle and bourgeois: Lope was very little interested in moral problems: The Mexican tells us that human beings are a mixture, that good and evil are subtly blended in their souls.
He uses analysis rather than synthesis: In several of his com- edies he takes up the question of lying. To what extent does a liar really lie? Is he really trying to deceive others? Is he not the first victim of his deceit, and the first to be deceived?
The liar lies to himself, because he is afraid of himself. By discussing the problem of authenticity, Alarcon anticipated one of the constant themes of Mexican thinking, later taken up by Rodolfo Usigli in his play The Gesticulator.
Every- thing is subordinated to reason, or to reasonableness, and his archetypes are those of a morality that smiles and forgives. When he replaces the vital, Romantic values of Lope with the abstract values of a universal and reasonable morality, is he not evading us, tricking us? His negation, like that of his homeland, does not affirm our individuality vis-a-vis that of the Spaniards. The values that Alarcon postulates belong to all men and are a Greco-Roman inheritance as well as a prophecy of the bour- geois code.
They do not express our nature or resolve our con- flicts: Only in our own day have we been able to answer the Spanish Yes with a Mexican Yes rather than with an intellectual affirmation containing nothing of our individual selves. The Revolution, by discovering popular art, originated modern Mexican painting, and by discovering the Mexican language it created a new poetry.
Nothing could be further from this 'attitude than that fear of the body which is characteristic of North American life. It is the opposite of Puri- tanism. The body exists, and gives weight and shape to our existence. It causes us pain and it gives us pleasure; ii: This explains why prudence is the virtue we most admire in women, just as reserve i s in me n.
Women too should defend their privacy. Womanhood, unlike manhood, is never an end in itself. There are countries that revere prosti- tutes or virgins, and countries that worship mothers; the grande dame is praised and respected almost everywhere. In contrast, we prefer these graces and virtues to be hidden. TWoman should be secretive. She should confront the world witKan impassive smile. In either event her response is neither instinctive nor personal: Our Spanish-Arabic inheritance is only a partial explanation of this conduct.
The Spanish attitude toward women is very simple. It is expressed quite brutally and concisely in these two sayings: The Mexican considers woman to be a dark, secret and passive being. He does not attribute evil instincts to her; he even pretends that she does not have any. Or7 to puTit more exactly, her instincts are not her own but those of the species, because she is an incarnation of the life force, which is essentially impersonal.
The Mexican, heir to the great pre-Columbian religions based on nature, is a good deal more pagan than the Spaniard, and does not condemn the natural world. Sexual love is not tinged with grief and horror in Mexico as it is in Spain. Instincts themselves are not dangerous; the danger lies in any personal, indj yidual exp ression of them.
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And this brings us back to the idea of passivity: The North American hides or denies certain parts of his body and, more often, of his psyche: By denying them he inhibits his spontaneity.
In other countries women are active, attempting to attract men through the agility of their minds or the seductivity of their bodies, but the Mexican woman has a sort of hieratic calm, a tranquillity made up of both hope and contempt.
The man circles around her, courts her, sings to her, sets his horse or his imagination to perform- ing caracoles for her pleasure. Meanwhile she remains behind the veil of her modesty and immobility. She is an idol, and like all idols she is mistress of magnetic forces whose efficacy in- creases as their source of transmission becomes more and more passive and secretive.
There is a cosmic analogy here: It is a secret and immobile sun. In addition to her cosmic significance she has an important social role, which is to see to it that law and order, piety and tenderness are predominant in everyday life. VWe will not allow anyone to be disrespectful to women, and almough this is doubt- less a universal notion, the Mexican carries it to its ultimate consequences. But how can we agree to let her express herself when our whole way of life is a mask designed to hide our intimate feelings?
It might be said that by turning what ought to be a cause for shame into a virtue, we are only trying to relieve our guilt feel- ings and cover up a cruel reality. This is true, but it is also true that in attributing to her the same invulnerability that we strive to achieve ourselves, we provide her with a moral immunity to shield her unfortunate anat omical open ness. Thanks to suffering and her ability to endure it without protest, she transcends her condition and acquires the same attributes as men.
Her extreme mobility, through a mechanism similar to that described above, renders her invulnerable. Activity and immodesty unite to petrify her soul.
The mala is hard and impious and independent like the macho. In her own way she also transcends her physio- logical weakness and closes herself off from the world.
The labyrinth of solitude : life and thought in Mexico
It is likewise significant that masculine homosexuality is regarded with a certain indulgence insofar as the active agent is concerned. The passive agent is an abject, degraded being. This ambiguous conception is made very clear in the word games or battles — full of obscene allusions and double mean- ings — that are so popular in Mexico City.
Masculine homosexuality is tolerated, then, on condition that it consists in violating a passive agent. But our mechanisms of defense and self-preservation are not enough, and therefore we make use of dissimulation, which is almost habitual with us.
It does not increase our passivity; on the contrary, it demands an active inventiveness and must reshape itself from one moment to another. We tell lies for the mere pleasure of it, like all imaginative peoples, but we also tell lies to hide ourselves and to protect ourselves from intruders. Lying plays a decisive role in our daily lives, our politics, our love-affairs and our friend- ships, and since we attempt to deceive ourselves as well as others, our lies are brilliant and fertile, not like the gross inven- tions of other peoples.
Lying is a tragic game in which we risk a part of our very selves. Hence it is pointless to denounce it. The dissembler pretends to be someone he is not.
His role requires constant improvisation, a steady forward progress across shifting sands. Every moment he must remake, re-create, modify the personage he is playing, until at last the moment arrives when reality and appearance, the lie and the truth, are one. At first the pretense is only a fabric of inventions intended to baffle our neighbors, but eventually it becomes a superior — because more artistic — form of reality.
Through dissimulation we come closer to our model, and sometimes the gesticulator, as Usigli saw so profoundly, becomes one with his gestures and thus makes them authentic. The death of Professor Rubio changed him into what he wanted to be: General Rubio, a sincere revo- lutionary and a man capable of giving the stagnating Revolu- tion a fresh impetus and purity.
In the Usigli play Professor Rubio invents a new self and becomes a general, and his lie is so truthlike that the corrupt Navarro has no other course than to murder him, as if he were murdering his old commander, General Rubio, all over again. By killing him he kills the truth of the Revolution. If we can arrive at authenticity by means of lies, an excess of sincerity can bring us to refined forms of lying. When we fall in love we open ourselves up and reveal our intimate feelings, because an ancient tradition requires that the man suffering from love display his wounds to the loved one.
But in displaying them the lover transforms himself into an image, an object he. He asks her to regard him with the same worshipful eyes with which he regards himself. And now the looks of others do not strip him naked; instead, they clothe him in piety. He has offered himself as a spectacle, asking the spectators to see him as he sees himself, and in so doing he has escaped from the game of love, has saved his true self by replacing it with an image.
Human relationships run the risk, in all lands and ages, of becoming equivocal. This is especially true of love. Narcissism and masochism are not exclusively Mexican traits, but it is notable how often our popular songs and sayings and our every- day behavior treat love as falsehood and betrayal.
We almost always evade the perils of a naked relationship by exaggerating our feelings.
Love is an attempt to penetrate another being, but it can only be realized if the sur- rend ex-is mutual. It is always difficult to give oneself up; few persons anywhere ever succed in doing so, and even fewer transcend the possessive stage to know love for what it actually is: The Mexican conceives of love asjQombatand conquest.
It is not so much an attempt to pene- trate reality by means of the body as it is to violate it. Therefore the image of the fortunate lover — derived, perhaps, from the Spanish Don Juan — is confused with that of the man who deliberately makes use of his feelings, real or invented, to win possession of a woman. Dissimulation is an activity very much like that of actors in the theater, but the true actor surrenders himself to the role he is playing and embodies it fully, even though he sloughs it off again, like a snake its skin, when the final curtain comes down.
The dissembler never surrenders or forgets himself, because he would no longer be dissembling if he became one with his image. But this fiction becomes an inseparable — and spurious — part of his nature.
He is condemned to play his role through- out fife, since the pact between himself and his impersonation cannot be broken except by death or sacrifice. The lie takes command of him and becomes the very foundation of his personality. To simulate is to invent, or rather to counterfeit, and thus to evade our condition.
Dissimulation requires greater subtlety: The Mexican excels at the dissimulation of his passions and himself. Instead of walking, he glides; instead of stating, he hints; instead of replying, he mumbles; instead of complaining, he smiles. Even when he sings he does so — unless he explodes, ripping open his breast — between clenched teeth and in a lowered voice, dissimulating his song: And so great is the tyranny of this dissimulation that although my heart swells with profoundest longing, there is challenge in my eyes and resignation in my voice.
Perhaps our habit of dissimulating originated in colonial times. And now we disguise not only our anger but also our tenderness. We dissimulate so eagerly that we almost cease to exist. In its most radical forms dissimulation becomes mimicry.
The Indian blends into the landscape until he is an indistin- guishable part of the white wall against which he leans at twilight, of the dark earth on which he stretches out to rest at midday, of the silence that surrounds him.
The Labyrinth of Solitude
He disg uises his human singularity to such an extent that he finally annihilates it and turns into a stone, a tree, a wall, silence, and space. Roger Caillois has pointed out that mimicry is not always an attempt to foil the enemies that swarm in the outside world.
Mimicry is a change of appearance rather than of nature, and it is significant that the chosen representation is either of death or of inert space. The act of spreading oneself out, of blending with space, of becoming space, is a way of rejecting appearances, but it is also a way of being nothing except Appear- ance.
The Mexican is horrified by appearances, although his leaders profess to love them, and therefore he disguises himself to the point of blending into the objects that surround him.
That is, he becomes mere Appearance because of his fear of appearances. He seems to be something other than what he is, and he even prefers to appear dead or nonexistent rather than to change, to open up his privacy. Dissimulation as mimicry, then, is one of the numerous manifestations of our hermeticism.
The gesticulator resorts to a mask, and the rest of us wish to pass unnoticed. In either case we hide our true selves, and sometimes deny them. I remember the afternoon I heard a noise in the room next to mine, and asked loudly: But that is not the end of it: Our dissimulation here is a great deal more radical: And this nothingness takes on its own individuality, with a recognizable face and figure, and suddenly becomes Nobody.
Don No One fills the world with his empty, garrulous presence. He is everywhere, and has friends every- where. He is a banker, an ambassador, a businessman.
He can be seen in all the salons, and is honored in Jamaica and Stock- holm and London. He either holds office or wields influence, and his manner of not-being is aggressive and conceited.
On the other hand, Nobody is quiet, timid, and resigned. He is also intelligent and sensitive. He always smiles.
He always waits. Nobody is afraid not to exist: Finally, in the midst of his useless gestures, he disappears into the limbo from which he emerged. It would be a mistake to believe that others prevent him from existing.
They simply dissimulate his existence and behave as if he did not exist. They nullify him, cancel him out, turn him to nothingness. It is futile for Nobody to talk, to publish books, to paint pictures, to stand on his head. Nobody is the blankness in our looks, the pauses in our conversations, the reserve in our silences. He is the name we always and inevitably forget, the eternal absentee, the guest we never invite, the emptiness we can never fill.
He is an omission, and yet he is forever present. He is our secret, our crime, and our remorse. And if we are all Nobody, then none of us exists. The circle is closed and the shadow of Nobody spreads out owsr our land, choking the Gesticulator and covering every- thing. Any occasion for getting together will serve, any pretext to stop the flow of time and commemorate men and events with festivals and ceremonies.
There are few places in the world where it is possible to take part in a spectacle like our great religious fiestas with their violent primary colors, their bizarre costumes and dances, their fireworks and ceremonies, and their inexhaustible welter of surprises: Our calendar is crowded with fiestas. Time is no longer succession, a nd becomes what it originally was and is: But the fiestas which the Church and State provide for the country as a whole are not enough.
The life of every city and village is ruled by a patron saint whose blessing is celebrated with devout regularity. Neighborhoods and trades also have their annual fiestas, their ceremonies and fairs.
And each one of us — atheist. It is impossible to calculate how many fiestas we have and how much time and money we spend on them.
We are very poor. But the Governor and the Federal Government always help us to meet our expenses. We are a small village, but we have two patron saints. Our p overty ca n be measured by the fre quency and h ixuriousness of our holidays. Wealthy coun- tr ies have very few: The people have other things to do, and when they amuse themselves they do so in small groups.
The modern masses are agglomerations of solitary in- dividua ls. On great occasions in Paris or New York, when the populace gathers in the squares or stadiums, the absence of people, in the sense of a people, is remarkable: Fiestas are our only luxury.
In all of these ceremonies - national or local, trade or fam- ily — the Mexican opens out. They all give him a chance to reveal himself and to converse with God, country, friends or relations. During th ese day s the silent Mexican whistles, shouts , sings, shoots off fireworks, discharges his pistol into the air. He dis- ehargeshis soul. And his shout, like the rockets we love so much, ascends to the heavens, explodes into green, red, blue, and white lights, and falls dizzily to earth with a trail of golden sparks.
This is the night when friends who have not exchanged more than the prescribed courtesies for months get drunk together, trade confidences, weep over the same troubles, discover that they are brothers, and sometimes, to prove it, kill each other. The night is full of songs and loud cries. The lover wakes up his sweetheart with an orchestra. There are jokes and conversations from balcony to balcony, sidewalk to sidewalk. Nobody talks quietly. Hats fly in the air. Laughter and curses ring like silver pesos.
Guitars are brought out. Now and then, it is true, the happiness ends badly, in quarrels, insults, pistol shots, stabbings. All are possessed by violence and frenzy. Their souls explode like the colors and voices and emotions.
Do they forget them- selves and show their true faces? Nobody knows. The important thing is to go out, open a way, get drunk on noise, people, colors. Mexico is celebrating a fiesta. And this fiesta, shot through with lightning and delirium, is the brilliant reverse to our silence and apathy, our reticence and gloom.
By means of this squandering the community protects itself against the envy of the gods or of men. Sacrifices and offerings placate or download off the gods and the patron saints. This luxury is a proof of health, a show of abundance and power. Or a magic trap. For squander- ing is an effort to attract abundance by contagion. Money calls to money. When life is thrown away it increases; the orgy, which is sexual expenditure, is also a ceremony of regeneration; waste gives strength.
New Year celebrations, in every culture, signify something beyond the mere observance of a date on the calen- dar. The day is a pause: The rites that celebrate its death are intended to provoke its rebirth, because they mark not only the end of an old year but also the beginning of a new. What is sought is potency, life, health. In this sense the fiesta, like the gift and the offering, is one of the most ancient of eco- nomic forms.
This interpretation has always seemed to me to be incomplete. The fiesta i s by nature sacred, literally or figuratively, and above all it is the advent of the unusual. I t all occurs in an enchanted world: But whatever happens, our'actions have a greater lightness, a differ- ent gravity.
They take on other meanings and with them we contract new obligations. We throw down our burdens of time and reason. Chaos comes back and license rules. Anything is permi tted: Men disguise themselves as women, gentle- men as slaves, the poor as the rich.
The army, the cle rgy, and theTawbre - ridiculedj Obligatory sacrilege, ritual profanation is committed. Love becomes promiscuity. Sometimes the fiesta becomes a Black Mass. Regulations, habits and customs are violated. By means of the fiesta s ociety frees itself from the norms i t has established. In the confusion that it generates, society is dissolved, is drowned, insofar as it is an organism ruled according to certain laws and principles.
But it drowns in itself, in its own original chaos or liberty. Everything is u nite d: Everythi ng merges, loses sliapiT and individuality and returns to the primordial mass. The fiesta is a cosmic experiment, an experiment in disorder, reunit- ing contradictory elements and principles in order to bring about a renascence of life. The fies ta is a return to a remote and undifferentiated state, prenatal or presocia l.
It i s a return that is also a beginning, in accorda n ce with the dia- lectic tha t is inherent in soc ial processes. The group emerges purified and strengthened from this plunge into chaos. It has immersed itself in its own origins, in the womb from which it came.
To express it in another way, the fiesta denies society as an organic system of differentiated forms L— and principles, but affirms it as a source of creative energy. Society communes with itself during the fiesta.
Its members return to original chaos and freedom. Social structures break down and new relationships, unexpected rules, capricious hier- archies are created. In the general disorder everybody forgets himself and enters into otherwise forbidden situations and places. The bounds between audience and actors, officials and servants, are erased.
Everybody takes part in the fiesta, every- body is caught up in its whirlwind. Whatever its mood, its char- acter, its meaning, the fiesta is participation, and this trait dis- tinguishes it from all other ceremonies and social phenomena. Lay or religious, orgy or saturnalia, the fiesta is a social act based on the full participation of all its celebrants.
An d it is significan t that a country as sorrowful as ours should have so many and such joyo us fiestas. They free us r if only momentarily, from the thwarted impulses, the inflammable desires that we carry within us. But the Mexican fiesta is not merely a return to an original state of formless and normless liberty: Our fiestas are explosions.
There is n othing so joyous as a Mexic an fiesta, but there is also nothing J so sorrowful. Fiesta night is also a night of mourning. Everything — music, love, friendship — ends in tumult and violence. The frenzy of our festivals shows the extent to which our solitude closes us off from communication with the world. We are familiar with delirium, with songs and shouts, with the mo nologu e.
Each time we try to express ourselves we have to break with o ursel ves. And the fiesta is only one example, per- haps the most typical, of this violent break. It is not difficult to name others, equally revealing: The somber Mexican, clo sed up in himse lf, sud- denly explodes, te ar s open his b reast and reveals himself, though not without a certain complacency, and not without a stopping place in the shameful or terrible mazes of his intimacy. We are not frank, but our sincerity can reach extremes that horrify a European.
Something impedes us from being.
And since we cannot or dare not con- fr ont our own selves, we resort to the fiesta. Death is a mirror which reflects the vain gesticulations of the living. The whole motley confusion of acts, omissions, regrets and hopes which is the life of each one of us finds in death, not meaning or explanation, but an end. Death defines life; a death depictsjLlife-in immutable forms; we do not change except to di sapp ear,' Qur deaths illuminate our lives.
If our deaths lack meaning, our lives also lacked it. If death betrays us and we die badly, everyone laments the fact, because we should die as we have lived. Death, like life, is not transfer- able. If we do not die as we lived, it is because the life we lived was not really ours: The opposition bet ween life and death was not so absolute to the ancient Mexican s as it is to us.
Life e xtended into death, and vice versa. Life, death and resurrection were stages of a cosmic process which repeated itself continuously. Life had no high er function than to flow into d eath, its opposite and complement; and death, in turn, was not an end in itself; man fed the insatiable hunger of life with his death. Sacrifices had a double purpose: Perhaps the most characteristic aspect of this conception is the impersonal nature of the sacrifice.
Since their lives did not belong to them, their deaths lacked any personal meaning. The dead — including warriors killed in battle and women dying in childbirth, companions of Huitzilopochtli the sun god — disap- peared at the end of a certain period, to return to the undiffer- entiated country of the shadows, to be melted into the air, the earth, the fire, the animating substance of the universe. Our indigenous ancestors did not believe that their deaths belonged to them, just as they never thought that their lives were really theirs in the Christian sense.
Everything was esamineito deter- mine, from birth, the life and death of each man: The Aztec was as little responsible for his actions as for his death. Space and time were bound together and formed an insepar- able whole. And this complex of space-time possessed its own virtues and powers, which profoundly influenced and determined hu- man life.
To be born on a certain day was to pertain to a place, a time, a color and a destiny. All was traced out in advance. Religion and destiny ruled their fives, as morality and free- dom rule ours. Only the gods were free, and only they had the power to choose — and there- fore, in a profound sense, to sin. The conquest of Mexico would be inexplicable without the treachery of the gods, who denied their own people. The advent of Catholicism radically modified this situation.
Sacrifice and the idea of salvation, formerly collective, became personal. Freedom was humanized, embodied in man. To the ancient Aztecs the essential thing was to assure the continuity of creation; sacrifice did not bring about salvation in another world, but cosmic health; the universe, and not the individual, was given life by the blood and death of human beings.
For Chris- tians it is the individual who counts. The world — history, soci- ety — is condemned beforehand. The death of Christ saved each man in particular. Each one of us is Man, and represents the hopes and possibilities of the species.
Redemption is a personal task. Both at titudes , opposed as they may seem, have a common note: Life only jus tifies an d transcends itself when it is realized in deat h, and death is also a transcendence, in that it is a new life.
To Christians death is a transition, a somersault between two lives, the temporal and the otherworld- ly; to the Aztecs it was the profoundest way of participating in the continuous regeneration of the creative forces, which were always in danger of being extinguished if they were not pro- vided with blood, the sacred food. They are ref- erences to the invisible r ealities. Modern death does not have any significance that transcends it or that refers to other values.
It is rarely anything more than the inevitable conclusion of a natural process. In a world of facts, death is merely one more fact. Everything in the modem world functions as if death did not exist. Nobody takes it into account, it is suppressed everywhere: But death enters into everything we undertake, and it is no longer a transition but a great gaping mouth that nothing can satisfy.
The century of health, hygiene and contraceptives, mir- acle drugs and synthetic foods, is also the century of the concen- tration camp and the police state, Hiroshima and the murder story. Nobody thinks about death, about his own death, as Rilke asked us to do, because nobody lives a personal life. Collective slaughter is the fruit of a collectivized way of life. Death also lacks meaning for the modem Mexican. It is no a longer a transition, an access to another life more alive than our own.
But although we do not view death as a transcendence, we have not eliminated it from our daily fives. The word death is not pronounced in New York, in Paris, in London, because it bums the lips.
The Mexican, in contrast, is familiar with death, jokes about it, caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates it; it is one of his favorite toys and his most steadfast love.
He views not only death but also life as nontranscendent. Our songs, proverbs, fiestas and popular beliefs show very clearly that the reason death cannot frighten us is that ct life has cured us of fear. Life and death are inseparable, and when the former lacks meaning, the latter becomes equally m eanin gless. Mexican death is the mirror of Mexican life. Serge Gruzinski, The Mestizo Mind.
The labyrinth of solitude
The Intellectual Dynamics of Colonization and Globalization trans. Google Scholar 8. Google Scholar 9. Google Scholar Claudio Lomnitz, Deep Mexico. Silent Mexico. Rutherford ed. Alan Knight, Mexico. Roland Barthes, Mythologies London: Vintage, ; first edition: , pp. David A. Brading, Mexican Phoenix. Paz, The Labyrinth of Solitude, pp.Or to put it another way: The man circles around her, courts her, sings to her, sets his horse or his imagination to perform- ing caracoles for her pleasure.
Providing a historical and modern context for this unique spiritual discipline, Scholl weaves his own journey through a labyrinth with the Gospel of Mark's telling of the twists and turns of Jesus' life, providing 40 reflections ideal for daily reading during Lent or any time of the year. Therefore our relations with death are intimate — more intimate, perhaps, than those of any other people — but empty of meaning and devoid of erotic emotion.
The Intellectual Dynamics of Colonization and Globalization trans. When they are old and worn out, we throw them away without a thought, into the wastebasket, the automobile graveyard, the concentration camp.
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